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Herdsman innocence

By   /  January 7, 2019  /  No Comments

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Suddenly the villages fall silent. The old tale has been overturned. The long nights of plunder. The raffia-roofed, mud-walled houses on fire. Old men and women lumbering lazily in tragic mockery of fleeing. The air sultry with the smell of death.

By first light the next morning, body counts recount the tale of the night. Corpses of children, mothers and fathers lie in bushes, in homes, on the streets. The houses, roofs gone, walls down, lie prostrate puffing out wisps of smoke in envy of chain smokers.

That was routine for about two years in the loin of the country, that is the Middle Belt. For about half a year, not much of these acts of murder rend the ear. What happened to the herdsmen-farmers conflict? How did it move from a crisis that would never end to the one that we are about to forget? Why is no one addressing this salutary trend? Why is even the presidency mute over the development?

The fear ended without a conference. There was no conference where both parties met, and no sort of armistice led to putting the arms at ease. Is it a case of a coward who is happy that his tormentor disappeared and would not even probe whether the demon died or just discovered a new victim?

We called it Fulani herdsmen/ farmers crisis, and it became a vexed nomenclature when the northern governors objected to the inclusion of Fulani. Then it was herdsmen’s crisis, or herdsmen/ farmers clash. But after a while, even the Miyetti Allah called the herdsmen Fulani, and it was no longer in doubt the identity of the culprits.

But we had other narratives. The Agatu incident with its heart-rending number of casualties became a marker with the Miyetti Allah wrapping itself in defence of its kinsmen. Then those who shied away from the Fulani word, including cautious and polite commentators, felt free to call them Fulani herdsmen. We have also known of the IDPs, the waves of Nigerians in Benue and Plateau and Taraba and Nassarawa huddled into camps in dread of the shadows of death.

When the Benue leaders visited the President, he replied in cynically unpresidential language asking them to accommodate their neighbour. Then it was the cool defiance of the Inspector General of police who would not station himself in Benue as the President ordered or, shall we say, begged. It is not as if the presence of a top officer makes a significant difference. It is the quality of discipline in the Force and charisma of the leader that drive efficiency, not necessarily his location.

We cannot forget also the defence minister who condemned modernity for building houses and highways to occlude the routine tranquillity of the cattle’s canter and gallops. Then of course the agriculture minister who yelled in subservient gusto that the federal government had done something for the farmers but nothing for the herdsmen.

At one stage, even the Emir of Kano joined the fray, and his language carried the fiery zeal of an ethnic partisan, reeling out numbers of Fulani victims that no one has been able to prove, since the onus lay on him. Then the confusion suffused the story as to whether they were Nigerian Fulani herdsmen or herdsmen from outside the country. The president even chipped in to hint they may not be Nigerian herdsmen, even if they were Fulani, a perspective that apparently tended to expiate the guilt of locals.

While this storm of recriminations endured, the killings flared on. One of the high moments was the mass burial undertaken in Benue where it was not clear whether the politicians were more interested in trading politics with the funeral or showing sympathy with the beloved. But tears and coffins abounded to dwarf any sympathy for the government at the centre.

In many instances, the story was that the people could not return when sacked by the bandits. Pressure fell on state governors with neither resources nor power to rebuild the fallen villages. The story even trended that the bandits had taken over the sacked villages, turning the churches into homes and fattening on sumptuous feasts of their farms and kitchens. In order words, they became armies of occupations.

Yet a good thing happened, when an imam, Abubakar Abdullahi risked his life to save hundreds of Christians in the rocky retreats of Yelwa Gindi Akwati in Plateau State.

What all of this show is that we are a scandalously uninvestigated country. We need to have evidence of who the real killers are. Was it a case of a herdsman penitence? A lot has been attributed to the Russian fighter aircraft Mi35, and that could have significantly deterred the killers. But what killers? Were the killers herdsmen or just bandits taking advantage of the blood spill between herders and farmers and making an imbroglio of it.

The herders did not go into hiding. We see them every day, and never with guns or AK47. Even the herders are not seen as insiders of the Fulani clan. They are second class citizens in the north and I would like to see their lots addressed with the same verve deployed to defend him. It seems it is the conflict that has revealed the hypocrisy of the northern elite in its treatment of the herdsmen in the same way the al majiri is consigned to the bottom of the totem pole. Nomadic education as a solution came only half-heartedly, and it seems a century ago when Jibril Aminu pushed it to the front burner.

Is the herder more sinned against than sinning? We have heard the clash with farmers for years. How did it escalate to a remorseless bloodbath? To what extent was it a case of cattle rustling triggering vengeance? The Fulani have said if you kill one, they kill a hundred in revenge? But was the rustling the only reason for the deaths, especially in communities where nothing of the sort happened like in Yelwa Gindi Akwati?

In my television show on TV Continental, late president of Northern People’s Congress, Bala Takaya insisted that the killers were not the regular herdsmen and that they came from outside the country. When they herded, they used the animals as cover. The killers, he insisted, were not herdsmen but shadowy impostors.

In Yelwa, for instance, they came only for Christians. It is important to not only quietly enjoy the burst of peace, but to reach the bottom. Bishop Kukah once said that we never solve any of our problems. We just move on, although ironically he wanted us to move on to other things on the Jonathan corruption saga. But he has a point. We should examine it. Where are the hoodlums gone? I suspect, without evidence, that they morphed into robbers and kidnappers. Such crimes are easier than razing down villages. They can strafed by Mi35 as they make away on foot or motorbikes.

If the killers are mainly bandits, does it mean the herds were innocent of most killings and deserve our apologies? Were they like the animals in J.P. Clark’s Fulani Cattle “so mute and fierce and wan/…not demurring nor kicking.”

If we don’t get to the bottom, we stand the risk of meeting them elsewhere. Or is it why Katsina and Zamfara are now escalating into emergencies?

 

READER’S RESPONSE

Thanks for your courage to cover a man of courage, Imam Abdullahi Abubakar. It is not for nothing that they gave the top honors as Hon. Fellow, Nigerian Academy of Letters. Congratulations.

Samuel Adeniran, Lagos.

 

 

Agbaje the monopolist

IN a recent television interview, Jimi Agbaje says no PDP youth is qualified to be governor of Lagos. Or more charitably, he didn’t see any young man or woman. That explains why he is the one who should run. Agbaje, the PDP candidate for Lagos State governor, should listen to himself. He is the one who accuses his opponents of overtaking Lagos. Yet, in his own language, he is a monopolist of power in Lagos PDP. Secondly, for a man who says he wants an inclusive government, he is dividing the society along generational lines.

The last time, he pitched the contest as an ethnic one, pushing his party and candidature as an Igbo versus indigenes affair. Now it is not only ethnic but also generational. He is fighting his ethnic group in an unblushing hint of a quisling and divider. Now, he is setting himself as contemptuous of youth.

Agbaje has not always known how to verbalise language in a campaign. Sometimes, he comes across as juvenile and, at least, unreflective in his diction. To be sure, Agbaje once used to look youthful, and of course handsome. Maybe he does not know that times move and once ruddy young men turn hoary. He may just learn that when he accuses others, people are listening.

He should not trade in hypocrisy and hope that a gullible electorate will buy in.

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